CHILDREN OF EIGHT YEARS OF AGE ARE STARTING TO USE HEROIN: WARNING:
CHILDREN as young as eight years are starting to use drugs as experts warn of a dangerous trend of younger addicts showing signs of increasingly more violent behaviour.
The Matt Talbot Adolescent Service in Cork said trends showed the onset of drug use for young people had dramatically lowered – from the age of 12 in 2006 to the age of eight this year.
Young people referred to the services, which caters for 14-23 year olds, are increasingly smoking heroin, using prescription drugs and carrying weapons to defend themselves against drug dealers to whom they owed money.
Strong evidence gathered by MTAS shows that combined benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, cocaine, and alcohol use correlated with repeated violent criminal behaviour.
Edel Foley, clinical manager at the centre, said there was also a real worry about the increasing levels of suicidal behaviour.
About half of the young people who attended services in January this year had attempted suicide prior to being referred, she said.
All of these young people were under 18 and had not been able to access immediate emergency psychiatric assessment.
Ms Foley welcomed the ban on head shop products this week, which she said were being used by most of the young people currently attending the services.
She said they were exhibiting extreme symptoms including extreme anxiety, depression, visual and auditory hallucinations and high levels of aggressive and challenging behaviour.
Statistics from 2009 for the free centre – which provides assessment, support and treatment services show:
* Referrals to MTAS increased by 70% in first six months of 2009.
* 92% of young people attending the service were multi-drug (POLYDRUG) users.
* 85% of young people were involved in the juvenile justice system.
* 62% of 18-23 year olds attending the service were heroin users.
* Significant number of referral of young people under 18 years who have smoked heroin.
* 42% increase in young people carrying concealed weapons.
Last year, 282 young people were referred to MTAS and 562 parents and carers, which show a significant overall increase of 30% on the previous year.
Ms Foley warned that the onset of heroin use among young people was "very frightening" and needed urgent attention and resources.
She said there are only 28 detox beds for an estimated 14,500 heroin users in Ireland and none of those detox beds are in Cork or the Munster area. Waiting lists of up to one year for treatment exist in the public healthcare system, she said.
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INCREASING levels of domestic violence and family breakdown is leading to a surge in homelessness among families and young men barred from their family homes.
And in many cases, men who have no reported addictions, physical or mental health issues are also becoming homeless – simply because of economic circumstances.
The disclosures emerged in an unpublished internal report by the HSE’s homeless person’s unit (HPU). The unit has been the main service provider of frontline supports for the homeless in Dublin city for more than 20 years. However, under the Government’s planned restructuring of services, the unit will essentially be dismantled, with its main functions – placement and assessment of homeless people – transferred to Dublin City Council.
In the report, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, HPU staff make it clear they do not believe the plans are in the best interests of vulnerable homeless people. They say it was a "matter of lingering regret and resentment" the HPU was not subject to proper evaluation before the decision was taken to restructure. Furthermore, staff remain unconvinced that research undertaken reflects the practical realities of homelessness.
"Accumulated wisdom of frontline staff is now apparently being cast aside as erroneous," it states. Correspondence between the council and the HPU also reveals the apparent lack of knowledge the council has regarding homeless services.
A January 1 hand-over date was fixed last August but the council was not ready for a number of reasons. A new date of February 1 was agreed but changed again at the 11th hour to April 1. That deadline has passed without the hand-over being completed.
Documents show as late as December, council officials submitted pages of basic questions relating to HPU practices, which include:
* what is your policy on placing people who have been barred from other accommodations?
* Do you have any formal links with hospitals regarding discharge policies?
* What do you do if a person presents with a known contagious infection?
* Have you any formal links with psychiatric hospitals?
* Are there any agreements in place with domestic violence refuges?
* Have you any formal links with social work teams regarding child protection issues?
* Why do you operate separate clinics for men, women and children?
According to a union representative for the HPU’s community welfare officers, the unit is seen as "surplus to requirements". Social campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said while the Government’s policy was to be welcomed, he was highly sceptical whether the resources were there to make it work.